Today’s Kickstarter Highlight is a fun one for me – Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time, by Lucky Duck Games.
If you’re not into video games, or if perhaps you live in a cave, then you might not know about the tower defense phenomenon of Kingdom Rush. And you may not even know a lot about the tower defense genre as a whole. Essentially, in a tower defense game, the player has a “base” they’re trying to protect from a seemingly endless stream of baddies whose sole purpose is to march relentlessly toward that base and destroy it. Along their (usually pre-determined) path, those baddies can be whittled down by towers that the player builds and upgrades. Occasionally–as in Kingdom Rush’s case–the player can also deploy units and heroes to act as a more mobile defense force to fight off the oncoming hordes. Tower defense games lend themselves very well to the video game format because they have a built-in ticking clock mechanism (can you beat the enemies before they get to you?) that requires a lot of “overhead” to manage. What I mean by this is there’s a large degree of bookkeeping that needs to take place in the background, such as which enemies spawn when, how much damage the towers do to those enemies, how fast those enemies move, plus an often complex resource economy used to build and upgrade your towers.
In a video game, the computer can worry about all that fiddly math and cause-effect stuff. All the player has to do is drop those bad guys. But when it comes to tabletop games, everything has to be done by the players themselves. That means all the bookkeeping activities need to be distilled into their most basic form and simplified, simplified, simplified. Plus, there’s gameplay elements that just don’t translate well from video game to tabletop game; and in cases like these, it’s up to a clever game designer to come up with innovative twists to make the experience more exciting and rewarding for the tabletop without sacrificing the feel of the original game.
It’s a tough thing to do, and I’ve written about this conundrum several times. Being both an avid video gamer and tabletop gamer, as well as a game designer, I’m impressed when a tabletop game manages to port a beloved video game and turn it into an even better experience. Bloodborne does a great job of this, and I have a hunch Kingdom Rush will knock it out of the park as well.
For starters, Kingdom Rush captures the look and feel of the original video game flawlessly. The bold cartoony art and bright landscape is all here. Even the tokens and iconography fit the original style which works great for the tower defense genre. When playing a game like this, I want instant gratification from smashing a bitty little bad guy with a giant hammer – an explosion of coins and gems feels like I’ve just cracked open a piñata and I’m being rewarded with its sweet, sweet candy. Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time even has fantastically sculpted miniatures that look just like the iconic heroes from the video game.
In terms of gameplay, Kingdom Rush sticks true to the core of the video version. Players are working together to build towers and use their heroes to stop the horde of bad guys coming for them. There’s a story-driven campaign that links various scenarios together, which gives a sense of progression and increasing challenge to the game. And remember that bookkeeping conundrum I was talking about earlier? There’s a couple awesome twists that solve it, and turn the game into a wholly unique experience. The first is that the enemies aren’t represented by a set of numbers such as “health” or “defense.” Instead, players deal damage in the form of oddly-shaped tiles that can be overlaid on the enemy tiles. By covering up all of the symbols on the enemy tile, the unit is destroyed. It’s more of a mini-puzzle which is a lot more rewarding than say, rolling a bunch of dice and keeping track of numbers. The second twist is in how the towers are treated. Rather than using a complex resource system to build permanent towers and later upgrade them, the towers can be removed from the board and passed to the next player, who can then upgrade them. This gives the game a more interactive dynamic between players, and gives a more exciting co-operative feel. There’s some great videos and animations on the Kickstarter page that show exactly what I’m talking about.
In fact, while you’re there, check out the rest of the game – it’s tearing through stretch goals, and there’s a deluxe edition pledge-level available that won’t be sold at retail! This is one I’m definitely backing to snag the additional content.
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky!